A New Light On Colonel Tom Parker

By: Michael Werner
Source: Elvis Australia
August 12, 2018

A New Light On Colonel Tom Parker

Michael Werner


Colonel Thomas Andrew Parker, the man who is inseparably connected to Elvis Presley's career more than anybody else, was born on June 26, 1909 in Breda (Nordbrabant, Netherlands) under the name of Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk. On August 15, 1955 he became Elvis Presley's personal manager and continued to hold this position until Elvis' untimely death on August 16, 1977. Almost 20 years later, on January 21, 1997, Parker passed away at the age of 87 in Las Vegas from a stroke.

Just as his client is possibly the most famous entertainer of all time, Parker is the publicly best-known artist manager, besides perhaps the Beatles' Brian Epstein who was, by the way, a huge admirer of Parker. In contrast to Epstein, however, Parker always 'enjoyed' an extremely bad reputation among his client's fans; loads of the worst imaginable stories and rumors are being told about the man who directed Elvis' career.

The question is: What of all this is truth, what is legend, what is misunderstood or misjudged, what is totally false?

It's about time to take a closer look at the most prevalent stories, rumors, claims, and opinions about this enigmatic and flamboyant personality. This article explicitly targets fans who are willing to take on a different perspective and face some sturdy facts. However, those who prefer to keep holding on to clichés they've come to love over the years should better stop reading now.

Parker left his Dutch home because he was a wanted murderer

Immediately before Parker ultimately migrated to America, a murder that has never been solved occurred in his native city of Breda on May 17, 1929, when Anna van den Enden, the newlywed wife of a greengrocer, was bludgeoned to death in the kitchen of her home behind the shop. There is, however, neither a recognizable connection between the victim and the murder to Parker, nor a motive for Parker to kill the young lady. Never has Parker been investigated in connection to this murder, let alone has anybody ever searched for him. There wasn't even a criminal suspicion against him. Every resident of Breda as well as every transient could have been the perpetrator. To consider his departure to the States a getaway is more than dubious, as his migration had been planned for a long time, and on top of that he had been to the USA before. In the end, the murder story is nothing more than a publicity ploy to help promote Alanna Nash's book on Colonel Parker which had nothing else of sensation to offer than this far-fetched cock-and-bull story.

Colonel Parker was an illegal immigrant and held this status until the end of his life

Whether or not Parker immigrated illegally to the USA is unknown; however, it's quite likely that he entered the land of his dreams illegally. But this was – by the way – nothing unusual 90 years ago. If all ancestors of initially illegal immigrants were expelled today, North America would virtually be deserted.

Parker served the U.S. Army for four years (1929-1933). This alone led him to no longer being an illegal alien. Later he got married to a U.S. citizen, Marie Ross. This also provided him a legal right of residence in the United States.

Just imagine how people who reside in a country illegally are usually acting: They hide and maintain a low profile, scared of being discovered. Above all, they could not hold a legal job. So what about Parker? He had a social security number; he worked for a politician and for the City of Tampa (Florida); he founded several companies; he paid millions in taxes; he lived a public life and could be recognized on thousands of photos with one of the most famous men on the planet. Would someone who resides in the USA illegally be this reckless and careless? Surely not!

It's generally known that in the first years of his new life Parker made up a complete 'legend' about his origin, for example that he was born in West Virginia. This is nothing condemnable or even unusual, though – among carnies, a false name and a false résumé were custom. Those particular about their appearance even had several of them to offer. Parker was one of them, so that's where it all came from. Later, he openly admitted to being from the Netherlands.

Apart from that, those who have ever heard Parker talk will surely have noticed his clearly audible Dutch accent. Did Elvis and all the guys around him have peanut butter in their ears to believe Parker was a real Southerner? Would anybody believe Arnold Schwarzenegger if he had said he was a born-and-bred Californian? This is the reason why the common assumption that Elvis knew nothing about Parker's European roots is totally absurd. In the early 60s, Parker introduced Elvis to his brother who was visiting him in the States and who only spoke Dutch. Joe Esposito once said that the guys very well noticed Parker's accent but believed he was German – they weren't too far off with their guess.

It's a fact that Parker never officially acquired U.S. citizenship. That is nothing unusual or even unlawful; a person can reside legally in a foreign country without being its citizen.

Many biographers claim that Parker lost his Dutch citizenship due to serving in the U.S. Army which would have made him a stateless person. This would only have been the case if the Dutch authorities had ever found out about Parker's U.S. Army stint, but they never did so during his lifetime. In the course of my research I received a letter from the Dutch Department of the Interior confirming that the person registered under the name of Andreas Cornelius van Kuijk was a Dutch citizen from his birth until the day he passed away. So Parker lived in America as a Dutchman. Legally.

Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley.
Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley.

The Colonel lived in the USA under a false name and thus was a forger

Parker got himself a new name because his awkward name 'van Kuijk' wouldn't have been too helpful in an English-speaking country. Millions of other immigrants did the same. If this were something condemnable, the USA would be a nation of forgers. Furthermore, Parker kept his middle name 'Andrew' as a reference to his former name 'Andreas'.

Elvis' world tour failed because the Colonel's didn't have a passport

This is probably the most told cock-and-bull story but that doesn't make it true. There might have been various reasons why Elvis never toured the world but Parker's allegedly non-existent passport was certainly not one of them. Even if Parker actually didn't have a passport, obtaining one would have only been a bagatelle for a taxpayer as prominent and respected as the influential manager of Elvis Presley. Never ever would he have let something as lucrative as a world tour fail because of such a minor and easy resolvable formality.

In this context fans tend to forget that in 1957, the Colonel escorted Elvis to concerts in Canada. Obviously, Parker left the U.S., entered another country, left it again, and reentered the U.S. without any difficulties. Therefore, he must have presented an official document of identification at the American-Canadian borders, otherwise he would still be stuck there today.

Also in 1957, Parker went to Hawaii with Elvis which back then wasn't a state of the U.S. (The Hawaiian Islands became the 50th state of the USA on August 21, 1959.)

Colonel Parker was cruel to animals

Parker loved telling stories from his time at the carnival. Especially his famous story about the dancing chickens on the hotplates caused amusement – in particular for Elvis who couldn't get enough of it. But even the critical Parker-biographer Alanna Nash doubts that the story is true because it has been going around constantly in the carnival scene with changing places, times, and protagonists, so it could merely be considered an urban legend.

Truth is, the Colonel was extremely animal-loving; especially big animals such as elephants fascinated him. Already as a student he spent all his spare time at the carnival and dabbled in training animals. In Tampa (Florida) he directed a municipal animal home where he took care of abandoned and abused animals; he even installed a pet cemetery. It is beyond debate that he made good money with it but that doesn't make him an animal abuser.

Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley.
Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley.

The Colonel wasn't a real 'Colonel'

Yes and no. Parker did not gain the title of a 'Colonel' at the army. In 1948, Jimmie Davis, Governor of Louisiana (and in 1939 singer and songwriter of 'You Are My Sunshine', which later became a state-hymn of Louisiana), bestowed the title on Parker to thank him for his support during a campaign. Thus, 'Colonel' is not an army rank but an honorary title which Parker held and used it with total justification.

Without Elvis the Colonel would never have been successful

False. Long before taking over Elvis' management, Parker was already a highly successful artist manager and tour organizer for – among others – country music top acts Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow. By the time Elvis and Parker met, Parker was a prosperous, influential man in show business, while Elvis was playing small venues for little money and couldn't live it up.

Elvis would have made it big with any other manager

This statement is purely hypothetical, as it – as well as the opposite – cannot be proven. Fact is that Elvis already had two managers before Parker, namely Scotty Moore and Bob Neal. Both weren't able to provide him with either a contract with a major record label, nor a national (let alone international) hit, nor lucrative performances, nor exposure on television. Certainly, another manager could have brought Elvis very far. Not just any other, but only a really good one. Whether Elvis really would have come that far with another manager (or even further, if at all possible) and continuously would have stayed as successful as he was with Parker, is at last pure speculation because we simply don't know and never will. What we know, however, that with Parker's management Elvis became the most successful star in the history of show business, and this achievement has to be respected.

Parker himself once said in an interview in his later years that Elvis had such an incredible talent that anyone could have made him a star. This was, for sure, nothing but an understatement in order to keep the focus on Elvis instead of the man behind him.

The Colonel didn't believe in Elvis and didn't support his artistic ambitions at all; he just regarded him as a product

On the contrary: Parker believed so steadfastly in Elvis that at the end of 1955, he ended his extremely lucrative cooperation with country music superstar Hank Snow and from then on gave his undivided attention to Elvis, virtually starting from scratch. Viewed in this light, Parker risked a lot more than Elvis for whom it could only go up.

Parker supported Elvis so much that he negotiated the best contracts for him. Not until everything was exploited to Elvis' advantage, was the deal good enough. This made Elvis one of the few artists who enjoyed full artistic freedom in his record contract – and that from the very beginning on. Most other stars could – then and now – only dream of that privilege.

Occasionally it is claimed that Parker didn't like Elvis' music too much. I don't know if that is true, but even if so, it would have been totally irrelevant. All that mattered was that the fans love Elvis' music. Parker was just the salesman behind it. In other words: Do you believe your car dealer is driving the same model he sold you, or do you even expect him to do so? In the music business it is not a premise for the manager to be his artist's biggest fan; industry experts even consider this dangerous due to a lack of critical distance. The agreement between Elvis and Parker comprised a clear-cut division of labor: Elvis took care of the arts, Parker took care of the business part.

This might sound hard to many people, but in the entertainment business music is just a commodity; the artist himself (or his image) is in a way, too. He has to be commercialized, there is no other way to succeed. Elvis wanted to be this commercialized; he loved making millions of dollars, and he enjoyed his wealth to the fullest. However, massive earnings like these don't stem from nothing.

Parker wasn't Elvis' surrogate father, nor his pastor, nor his therapist, nor his musical consultant. Elvis had more than enough people around him to fulfill these needs. Colonel Parker was the business manager of Elvis Presley; his only job was to get the highest amount of money possible out of whatever Elvis did artistically. That's exactly what he did. Not more, but also not less.

Articles about Elvis Presley Read Part II A New Light On Colonel Tom Parker | Part II

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Elvis Presley Video Interview with Colonel Tom Parker : Elvis Presley's Manager : 1987
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Elvis Presley Photos Photos: Colonel Tom Parker's Birthday on the Set of the '68 Special
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Interviews with or about Elvis Presley Interview with Kenny Wynn : Colonel Tom Parker's assistant

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